Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Jets over Cowboys

Sam Darnold
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

The New York Jets defense has a definitive lean. Coming into Week 6 they were 29th in adjusted sack rate, and per Sports Info Solutions they were 24th in pressure rate. While the Jets were 13th in pass defense DVOA, they also had been lit up by the Browns on Monday Night Football and essentially lived three entire games in such a bad game script where offenses didn't need to pass on them.

So of course, the Cowboys came into this game and ran the ball right at the Jets. Like, almost all the time. The Cowboys averaged 3.8 yards per rush on 34 carries, most importantly running 19 times on third down and getting an average of just 3.3 yards. So despite the fact that they apparently ran all over the Jets, and the fact that they kept winding up in Jets territory, they also kept stalling out short of the goal line. The Cowboys were 10-of-17 on converting third downs, but resorted to big dumb football at the worst times, like this four-play sequence in the red zone:

The second-down run, against a light box, I would argue isn't so bad. The rest of this is sheer arrogance -- especially the third-down call.

The Cowboys were managing a breakthrough from Dak Prescott earlier in the season in Kellen Moore's play-action focused attack, but they were content to just run the ball most of the time against New York in spite of that. Even when you split out Prescott's games, he still performed very well even as the offense has struggled of late. He played without Tyron Smith for most of the last two weeks, without La'El Collins last week, and without Amari Cooper for a lot of last week. In Weeks 1 to 3, Prescott had 373 DYAR and his DVOA was 49.0%. In Weeks 4 to 6, he had 274 DYAR and his DVOA is 22.8%. Over those three weeks, he has been the fourth-best quarterback by DYAR, behind only Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Matt Ryan.

Dallas Play-Action Passing
  Dropbacks Play-Action Percentage
Weeks 1-2 63 25 39.6%
Weeks 3-6 155 30 19.3%

And while they're doing all this running, the Cowboys have basically abandoned the play-action rate that got them so many rave reviews early in the season -- 19.3% as a full-season total would rank seventh-worst in the league.

So while this was a close loss, and there were a number of small little swing plays that change things -- dubious pass interference on Cedrick Wilson being the one that really stands out -- the real culprit for the Cowboys was their own offensive philosophy. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and have shown elements of an attack that would make him extremely dynamic throughout this season. Against the Jets, they pretended all that never happened and decided to turtle up. They got what they deserved.

Prescott's development and the identity of this current Cowboys team under Jason Garrett continue to manifest in a way that looks like it should work on paper, but often leaves everyone involved disappointed. Fits and starts every season. Will there ever be accountability for it?

Where the Game Swung

Here's what business daddy EdjSports thinks of the action. The game really shifted on Robby Anderson's 92-yard touchdown catch, which added 20.7% GWC to the Jets all on its own. Looks to be Cover-3:

The Cowboys were cited for a few instances of conservative coaching. A fourth-and-2 punt from their own 33 with 2:14 left in the first half cost them 2.3% GWC, and a field goal attempt on the New York 14 on fourth-and-goal cost them 1.4% GWC.

If you'd like to read a delightful screed by Chase Stuart that I'd rather not out-and-out plagiarize on how bad some of Jason Garrett's decision-making was in this game, by all means go to Football Perspective.

By the (D)VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
DAL 28.7% 27.6% 3.6% 4.6%
NYJ 15.8% 3.5% 8.0% 20.3%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
DAL 29.3% 14.1% 3.6% 18.8%
NYJ 20.8% 17.0% 8.0% 11.8%

You might be a little surprised by how bad Dallas' defensive DVOA is -- remember that the adjustment for playing New York includes all those Luke Falk games. I'm sure that will get sorted out a bit as we draw a bigger sample size, but for now, well, we're surprised the number wasn't even worse.

Otherwise, it was a very even game between the two teams, just as it showed on the scoreboard.

What a Difference a Quarterback Makes

Listen, it's fairly evident that Sam Darnold is not Luke Falk, and I don't need to drag out a picture of him pointing at you to prove it, but I'm going to anyway.

I think the most remarkable difference was pressure. We often say that quarterbacks create sacks and pressure for themselves -- they are the ones that own most of those statistics. Here is what it looks like when you split out Darnold and other Jets quarterbacks this year:

Jets Pressure Rate Allowed
  Dropbacks Pressures Pressure Rate Sacks
Weeks 1 & 6 79 24 30.3% 6
Weeks 2-5 98 29 29.5% 19

New York's overall sack rate on the season is 14.1%, but Darnold's is nearly half that, and this is despite playing two of the best pressure defenses in the NFL in Dallas and Buffalo. In particular, Darnold seems to be able to do this thing called "understanding that Jamison Crowder is on the team."

As you can see from the raw stats, Darnold is actually pretty good at being aware of Crowder's existence:

Crowder and Anderson, With and Without Darnold
  Weeks 1 and 6   Weeks 2-4
  DYAR DVOA Targets DYAR DVOA Targets
82-J.Crowder 35 4.2% 26 -32 -41.2% 14
11-Ro.Anderson 22 4.4% 16 3 -9.3% 14

It's hard to say what the Jets will do with the rest of this season. They're not starting from a promising position. They have just an 18.3% chance of making the playoffs at this point, almost all of it through the AFC wild card. Even that only feels like a real chance because the rest of the AFC is just so bad. There are only five AFC teams with a positive DAVE, and one of them just spent three quarters looking up at Devlin Hodges beating them 24-0.

But this is a vacuum for them to step into, for sure. Darnold isn't Philip Rivers, but if there is one destiny that is uniquely Adam Gase, it is riding a bad slate of AFC teams into an undeserved playoff spot. They may be in too steep of a hole at this point, but if you compare the Jets at full strength to most of the rest of the AFC, they're not behind by much. They've already got one of the New England whoopings out of the way, and outside of a home date with the Ravens, they don't face a single other top-10 DVOA team for the rest of the season.

In all likelihood, what we have is a scenario where Darnold gets a real chance to cook under his new head coach and the two of them figure out together that Gase's scheme is too conservative to do much. Then they'll run it back in Year 2 before anybody in the Jets front office actually notices.

But ... a real quarterback does raise all tides, and the AFC is so bad it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the Jets could make a run here. Just be open to the possibility, that's all I'm saying.

(Ed. Note: That 18.3% chance of the Jets making the playoffs is due to a new simulation where we only incorporated offensive DAVE using the Jets' two games with Sam Darnold along with the preseason projection that included Darnold. I think that's a more accurate expectation of how good the Jets will be going forward. That rating would actually make the Jets the sixth AFC team with a positive DAVE rating right now. However, if we used a DAVE rating that incorporated all the Luke Falk games, the Jets would only have 6.3% chance of making the playoffs. -- Aaron Schatz)

Comments

3 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2019, 1:35pm

1 I'm usually as in favour of…

I'm usually as in favour of aggressive coaching as anyone, but I have a hard time dinging a coach for kicking a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the *14*. The odds of converting that are so incredibly low, and it even negates the benefit of pinning the other team on their goal line if you don't make it.

2 Yeah, I totally get that. I…

Yeah, I totally get that. I'm just sharing the numbers. I think the two things GWC really have drilled in my head this year that go counter to traditional wisdom is:

-- fourth-and-1 or 2 in your own territory should be considered a go-for-it down

-- when you're trailing by a lot late, fourth-and-long in field-goal range or the red zone is still also a go-for-it down